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Burner (for iPhone) Review
Burner lets you purchase disposable numbers for the many cases you’d want to hide your actual number. It proposes a great idea, but is a bit lacking in execution.
(3.5 out of 5)
- Easy to use
- Clean, fast, intuitive interface
- Choose your own area code
- Manage multiple Burner numbers at a time.
- No caller ID for received calls
- Text notifications never worked
- Questionable recycling of numbers.
Cops, drug dealers, or people in my category—diehard fans of the hit TV show The Wire—will be familiar with the term “burner.” Burners are cheap, prepaid phones often used to arrange drug sales and similar crimes, and are then “burned” or disposed of immediately to avoid police wiretaps and tracers.
Similarly, the Burner iPhone app, starting at $1.99 for one phone number, assigns a disposable phone numbers that you can instantly trash when you’re done. It still runs calls and texts over your existing mobile network, so Burner won’t actually help you hide from law enforcement, but it will mask your real number from your average creeper in places like Craigslist and online dating sites.
How Does Burner Work?
Burner buys phone numbers from Twilio, a startup that makes an API for voice communications. All Burner does is bridge your existing number and cell phone service to the assigned number. I asked CEO Greg Cohn of Ad Hoc Labs, which made the app, how quickly numbers get recycled, and he said the company is still in the process of figuring that out. At press time, about week after the app was released, Burner hadn’t recycled any numbers yet.
The calls and texts from your burner number still run over your own, unencrypted mobile network. Privacy-conscious folks would do better to turn to encrypted texting and calling apps like TrustCall and Gliph (neither of which have been reviewed by PCMag).
As you can imagine, the possible uses for an anonymous number are endless. Burner’s PR pitch includes innocent use-cases like going on online dating sites, Craigslist, job searches, Meetups, and social networking shoutouts. The less innocent can think of plenty more uses, but be aware that Burner’s Terms of Agreement clearly state that you can’t use the app to call 911 or for any illegal activities.
Let’s Burn Something
Burner is incredibly easy to use. I set up my first burner by entering my real number into the app, then a confirmation code that was texted to me, and tapping a button. Burner let me customize my area code and then immediately generated a number, which I labeled “Craigslist.”
Numbers are bought and extended with credits. A single burner costs three credits, or $1.99, and gives you 20 minutes of talk time to use over seven days. You can extend this number or add minutes by purchasing additional credits, with a tiered pricing model. At the moment, there’s no limit to the number of Burner numbers you can have at a time (Cohn said some users have eight). Your Burner numbers are all stored in list form on your main screen, with a label, the number, and expiration date. It’d be helpful to receive some sort of reminder when your Burner number is about to expire so you can add credit as needed.
Missing Elements in Received Voice/Text
Once you have your Burner number, you can start texting and calling from within the app. It works smoothly. Your recipient will only see that it’s from your Burner number, and performance is as good as dialing or texting with your actual number.
Receiving texts and calls is a different story. Caller ID never worked—I only saw my own Burner number as the originating number. I tried calling the number from several different lines and got the same result.
For received text messages I never received a notification, even though all texting notifications were turned on. The only way I knew I’d received a text sent to my Burner number was by entering the app itself.
Burner (for iPhone) is an innovative app that lets you buy disposable phone numbers, from which you can place calls and send SMSs through your own cell phone network. Tap a button to dispose, or burn, the number, immediately. It’s a novel idea, and the closest thing I’ve seen to this is actually buying a prepaid cell phone and tossing it when you’re done with the number. However, the app lacks a couple key features for those on the receiving end.
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By Sara Yin, PCMag